Ever since I started learning Tango Argentino I’ve always felt that the process of teaching and learning tango could be made more efficient. I noticed that the method whereby one rehearses a pre-determined choreography is imported from other studio dances and seemed to be a very inefficient way of learning tango. The problem seems to be not so much the learning of steps per se, as the whole rather mechnical process of model-and-drill and practice with a partner to a piece of music. It really a puzzle how one can achieve any feeling through such a mechanical process.
Over the years I learned several other approaches to learning movement such as the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, and Contact Improvisation. I also studied cognitive psychology and educational theories which offer further interesting perspectives on teaching and learning. I also invested more time in learning about the history, music and culture of Argentine Tango.
These ideas influenced my own approach to the practice of tango. However, when I attempted teaching tango to others I ended up falling back on the standard approach of teaching rigid patterns. Seeing that the results were as always disappointing I asked myself whether it is possible to learn tango as an improvisational form, without teaching artificial and rigid fixed patterns that everyone goes through in the typical tango class.
The approach that I came up with is very different from the typical social dancing class. First of all, it is not as much fun and activity and so might not be as interesting. That is because most people take dancing classes not as a way to reach a goal of dancing tango, but rather as a social activity in itself. Unfortunately, while it would be desirable to make all learning fun and entertaining, the reality is that achievement of any sort of competence typically demands the sort focused practice which many people find challenging.
However, for those who are interested in developing a real competence in tango, the challenge may not be so unpleasant. Focused practice, once you get past the initial resistance, is actually quite enjoyable and invigorating, whether you’re working on your voice, a classical instrument, or with movement.
What I have found that eliminating rehearsed sequences of steps allows us to get to the essence of tango: walking, embrace and music. All dance teachers will to some extent emphasise these elements, but the details matter. The way one walks in a tango show is not how one walks in social tango for one simple reason: the context and purpose of the dancing are completely different. Similarly, the way you learn to do show dancing, or its derivative form of Salon Style Tango, is completely different then the way you learn improvised social Tango Milonguero.
In Tango Milonguero we want to develop the skills that are a basis for improvised dancing and to free up our natural movement through focused movement exploration. Before we can dance freely and pleasantly with a partner it is useful to develop an awareness of our body and its movement possibilities on your own.
The simple reason for this is that at the beginning everything is difficult and so if you add music and a partner you already have more variables that you can handle. When one is in an embrace and the music is playing a novice can hardly be expected to be able to focus on his own body and movement. And yet attention to your own posture greatly improves movement and connection to your partner and the music. So this is best developed on your own.